When I was young, if I was reading a book in a room that was dark, my mother would say, “Turn on the light, and you might see better what is on the page.” My mother’s advice reminds me of Catholic school education: Our faith is like light, and just as we might see a page better if we have a light on, so with our education: What we learn will be more meaningful when it is viewed through the “light of faith.” Knowledge is not neutral, and the eyes through which we view knowledge, learn about the world, and grow in virtue make all the difference.

The mission of a Catholic school is the same as the mission of the Church, that is, to pass on the faith. Catholic schools are about partnering with parents to form, inform, and transform each student into a faith-filled, well-rounded, and virtuous human being who will help make the world a better place. In seeking to form, inform, and transform students, the goal of Catholic school education is to develop students into full human beings, not just superb technicians. As Fr. Michael Himes of Boston College notes, Catholic schools are about shaping humanity, what we share with God through Jesus Christ, our model for this transformation.

Being Catholic, being a person of faith, is a way of seeing, an attitude, a manner of acting and relating, a style of life, a unique set of convictions, hopes, and practices (Most Rev. Robert Barron, The Strangest Way). And the Catholic school provides the best and most privileged environment for achieving this goal, for immersing young people in this way of life, for shaping attitudes and convictions, and for influencing life-long practices. Being educated in a Catholic school is an apprenticeship for a life of faith and the blessings of eternity.

In 1884, the Bishops of the United States at a meeting in Baltimore, decided that it was central to the future of the faith in the United States to educate its children and youth in Catholic schools. There they mandated that every parish should have a Catholic school to combat what they considered to be the dangers to the Catholic faith of the contemporary world. Over the last 131 years, the Bishops of the United States have often reiterated the importance of Catholic school education, especially in modern times in the face of the growing secularization becoming apparent in our country. Catholic schools today are more important to our mandate to “pass on the faith” than they have ever been. And Popes in the modern age who have visited the United States have consistently emphasized the importance of Catholic school education in perpetuating a Catholic culture and preserving Catholic values in our nation.

By supporting Catholic school education in the Archdiocese of Portland, this Catholic community is participating in shaping the future of the Church and of society by shaping the outlook of society’s future responsible citizens. Catholic schools provide the means for the children and young people of this Archdiocese to be prepared to bring the principles of truth and justice to the society in which they will live as adults.

Each year, starting with the last Sunday in January, we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, and reflect on Catholic schools and their importance to the Church, to our nation, and to the world. However, sometimes we take our blessings for granted and don’t realize the great gifts we have until we lose them. Therefore, to conclude this reflection, I would like to share with you a paragraph from a study about Catholic school education undertaken by the University of Notre Dame called Making God Known, Loved, and Served:

Perhapsthe best way to appreciate the power of Catholic schools is to imagine the Church in the United States without them. What would it look like? Would it be as robust and vital? How would it produce generous leaders? How would it serve immigrants? How would it provide avenues of educational opportunity to the poor, especially in our cities? The rise of evangelical Christian schools shows that other Christian communities have learned what many Catholics have forgotten or are willing to ignore—that there is no substitute for spending 35 hours each week in an educational environment permeated by faith and Gospel values. To those who wonder how we can afford to make the investment necessary to sustain, strengthen, and expand Catholic schools, we respond by turning the question on its head. How can we afford not to make this investment? Our future depends on it more than we may suspect.

The author is the superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Portland.